Whenever I hear a parent rail against vaccines, it goes something like this: “Oh my goodness, I would never inject my baby with that POISON” or “I feed my kids oodles of Kale [substitute coconut oil, essential oils, probiotics, etc] so they can’t possibly get sick or die from [insert any vaccine-preventable diseases].”
Notwithstanding the fact that neither of these arguments make sense from a scientific point of view (vaccines have been around for many decades and are safe; no health food is going to prevent your child from picking up a nasty germ), there is one main thing that these kinds of arguments have in common.
When you make these arguments you are focused entirely on your child, or yourself. And although doctors and every healthcare organization recommends that all children and adults be fully vaccinated and it seems bonkers not to do so, vaccines are not just about you and your precious child.
Let’s take the flu vaccine as a example, because we will be in flu season before we know it, and now is the time that all of us are out getting our flu shots … or not, if you’re like the 50% of people who refuse to do so.
Now, I used to be a bit of an agnostic when it came to the flu shot, so I get the resistance on some level. I used to think: “Well, everyone gets the flu and it’s just a really nasty bug. Why bother getting a shot for that? What’s next, shots for the common cold? Come on…”
Then I had kids, both of whom are asthmatic. Both of whom have had incidences where a particular virus has messed so badly with their lungs that I have watched them lie there, their little chests retracting in and out, the spot between their collarbones sinking in each time they took a breath.
You can bet your ass that I give them the flu shot each year, because the flu is a serious respiratory infection and while it may be “just a really nasty bug” for some people, for others it can kill.
Once I began to deal with my two vulnerable, asthmatic kids, I realized something else about a shot like the flu shot. Not only do I make sure that my kids and everyone in our family get a flu shot, but I sure as fuck hope that everyone in our community gets a shot to lower their risk of contracting the flu, and thereby transmitting it to my kids.
But again, it’s not just about my kids and their particular health struggles.
It’s about the elderly folks in my community, those with weak immune systems from cancer treatments, HIV, or a genetic disorder. It’s about infants who are extremely vulnerable to diseases like the flu and who can’t get flu shots till they’re six months old. It’s about pregnant moms, who risk premature birth if they get the flu. It’s about healthcare providers working with all kinds of vulnerable folks. It’s about parents who can’t afford to take a week off of work while their family recovers from the flu.
Check out this awesome post by a nurse named Amanda Bitz who works on the frontlines – and who has seen the sometimes catastrophic effects the flu can cause.
Bitz correctly notes the importance of “herd immunity” and that even the healthiest of us out there need to get the flu shot to protect those around us.
“The flu shot is NOT always about you,” she writes. “It’s about protecting those around you, who cannot always protect themselves.”
Bitz also shares some truly heartbreaking anecdotes about times that she lost patients to the flu, reminding us all that the flu isn’t just some run-of-the-mill winter illness.
“I have been in the room as a patient has passed away, because of influenza,” she writes. “I have watched patients struggle to breathe, because of influenza. I have busted my butt to provide tylenol, warm blankets, nebulizers, etc. to keep that patient comfortable and fighting a terrible respiratory infection.”
It’s difficult to think about these things, but the problem is that people continue to be woefully ignorant about this matter, and don’t understand the importance of making sure that we keep ourselves and our fellow citizens as safe as possible from a potentially deadly virus.
Oh, and if you want some stats to back this all up, I’ll offer you these. (You can click on the little highlighted links for source material.)
– During the 2017-2018 flu season, 48.8 million people got the flu, 959,000 were hospitalized, and 79, 400 died from the flu.
– Of the 79,400 people who died from the flu in the 2017-2018 season, the majority were over 65 years old, but hundreds of young children also died of the flu.
– Flu vaccines have been proven to reduce flu-related hospitalizations for kids, people with chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, and for pregnant women.
Okay, you may be asking, but what about the fact that flu vaccines often have low effectiveness rates?
First of all, this argument makes no sense, because even if the flu shot is only 30% effective in one particular year, that’s 30% more effective than nothing at all, isn’t it? And when you are talking about a serious illness like a flu, doesn’t it make sense to use whatever resources we have to stay healthy?
But there’s another bit of research I like to cite, which is that even for people who end up contracting the flu after having gotten a flu shot, their illness is less severe, they are less likely to be hospitalized, and they are less likely to die.
Now think about what would happen if all of us got our flu shots? Even if the shot were not 100% effective, we would all be less likely to get the flu because there would simply be less flu virus circulating in our communities, which would mean that all of us – and especially the more vulnerable among us – would be safer and healthier.
So, stop with the pseudoscience, go out and get your damn flu shot. For yourself. For you kids. But most of all, because getting your flu shot is just being a decent human.